The celebrations for what would have been John Lennon’s 70th birthday, on October 9th of this year, have begun to take shape. On October 5th, EMI will reissue freshened versions of Lennon’s solo albums, along with some previously unreleased home recordings. And on the actual anniversary, Yoko Ono will hold her annual lighting of the Imagine Peace Tower on an island off ReykjavÌk, Iceland. “The fact that this year is John’s 70th birthday year is very special for us all,” Ono tells Rolling Stone. “We are all together celebrating John for having given us so much good energy in his lifetime and now.”
In Iceland, Ono will also present LennonOno Grant for Peace awards to four recipients — authors Michael Pollan and Alice Walker, public health advocate Barbara Kowalcyk, and documentary filmmaker Josh Fox — whose work is “based on their courage and commitment to peace, truth, and human rights.” She’ll then give a special Plastic Ono Band performance with a lineup that will include her son Sean. “A tribute concert for John given by Sean and I that evening will be the icing on the cake!” says Ono.
The Imagine Peace Tower fulfills, in a way, an old wish of Lennon’s. “I was inspired to conceive of a light tower in 1965, which was printed in ‘Sales List’” her 1965 Fluxus artwork “and appeared in my book Grapefruit,” Ono explains. “John picked this up and invited me over to his Kenwood mansion, asking if I could build the light tower in his garden. Of course, I had to tell him the conceptual nature of the work, and that I didn’t know how to make it into a physical object! Nearly 42 years after this dialogue between me and John, Imagine Peace Tower was built in Iceland and has become a physical reality.”
Lennon fans will get their own tangible objects in the form of upgraded reissues of his solo albums (from Plastic Ono Band through Milk and Honey) along with a single-disc compilation and a boxed set. The Gimme Some Truth box is particularly enticing: a bonus disc includes previously unreleased home recordings of songs from 1970’s volcanic Plastic Ono Band (“God,” “I Found Out,” “Mother,” “Love”) along with other tracks from his subsequent records. Also included: a “Stripped Down” version of Lennon and Yoko Ono’s 1980 album Double Fantasy, in which Ono and producer Jack Douglas peeled away the original album’s production to reveal its basic tracks. “You feel like you’re in the presence of John interacting with Yoko and the players,” Douglas tells Rolling Stone. “It’s the same with Yoko’s songs. The dialogue between the two of them becomes even more obvious. There are a couple of songs that never sounded like duets but do now, like ‘Every Man Has a Woman Who Loves Him.’”
According to Douglas, tracks like “I’m Losing You” and “Watching the Wheels” benefited in particular from the makeover. “When you hear them raw, those are two of the jewels,” he says. ”’Watching the Wheels’ becomes this song with barely any accompaniment. ‘I’m Losing You’ was meant to be like this.” One of Ono’s tracks, “Yes, I’m Your Angel,” now includes a lead guitar part that was later replaced by horns. “It sounds like Brian May now!” says Douglas. “Amazing three-part harmony guitar lines backing up the song — very cool.”
Douglas found himself, to his surprise, reconfiguring the album in the same room where Double Fantasy had been cut — a Sony studio that once housed the legendary Record Plant. “They said, ‘Mr. Douglas, we have to tell you something — the very room that you’ll be doing your transfers in is rumored to be the last room where you and John worked together,’” he says. “I thought, ‘This is so strange.’ I started this project in the very same room in which I left it.”